Whether you are shopping for a home heating system or an upgrade for an apartment or commercial building, there will be three main features that will be different from the equipment of the past. Although heating technology has made great strides over the past 10 years, recent advancements including multi-stage burners, high efficiency motors, and controls have set the standard for the following generations of heating equipment.

Multi-Stage or Modulating Burners

High efficiency furnaces and boilers have been around for almost 20 years – so that is not that new to the industry. What is new is how the burners in these units operate. Once-upon-a-time, burners were simply ON or OFF: petal to the metal, or stopped. Now 2-Stage burners are common, but the best are multi-stage or modulating burners. These burners will incrementally increase or decrease the burner size when it is firing to match the heating load. This mimics highway driving in a car versus city driving stops and starts. “Highway driving” heating cycles are longer, easier on the equipment and more efficient. Modulating burners are available on furnaces, boilers and water heaters.

High Efficiency Motors

Today’s motors, either to run furnace fans or boiler pumps, are turning to high efficiency technology to save electricity. Commonly referred to as ECM or DC motors, they are Electronically Commutated Motors powered by a DC electric source. What it means for the Heating Industry is that there is dramatic cost savings versus a typical AC motor, and superior controllability.

BC Hydro conducted a study in 2007 of two identical apartment buildings, one equipped with an ECM pump, the other with a single speed AC pump. The results showed a 76% savings for the ECM pump. Depending on the size of the motors, this could offer significant operational savings.


To complement the improvements to burners and motors, controls have also improved. Where once analog controls dominated, today digital communicating technology is the preferred control strategy. Building management systems and home thermostats can measure outdoor temperatures, humidity levels, and temperatures from multiple rooms. Some systems feature alarms to let you know about problems. And connecting to these systems is easier than ever with friendly interfaces and remote internet access. With ease, you can check your home or building`s temperature from your Blackberry.

It feels like the future is here!

Stephen McDonald is the General Manager of Afterglow Ltd, and the President of the Waterloo-Wellington Chapter of HRAI. He is available at smcdonald@afterglow.ca